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Sun News: Virungas of Eastern Congo: Population and World Heritage in Peril

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Georgianne Nienaber       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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This commentary was co-written with keith harmon snow (

Editorial Note: The New Mexico Sun News requested commentary from keith harmon snow and Georgianne Nienaber after reading about the trade in magic gorilla sticks on OpEdNews. This is the unedited version of the article which appeared in the 2007 September 30 issue.

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On September 19, 2007, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) committed some $496 thousand dollars of new funds for wildlife conservation in the gorilla territories of Central Africa.

The announcement came on the heels of six months of self-funded investigative reporting by these authors about corruption, mercenary operations, guerilla warfare, and the misappropriation, misdirection and disappearance of funds previously committed by USAID, the European Union and other big international donors in the conservation, development and so-called “humanitarian” (aid and charity) sectors.

Two urgent messages arrived from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in late August 2007—each labeled S.O.S. Congolese national Vital Katembo Mushegezi, a state Conservator and Senior Game Warden in the Virungas National Park, sent out an urgent S.O.S. appeal from the DRC because his life is threatened for speaking out about internationalized corruption. The second S.O.S. came from a Congolese animal rights organization that has been investigating the gorilla trade and corruption in the ranks of conservation NGOs operating within Virunga Park.

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In a stunning revelation, investigators from the Innovation for the Development and Protection of the Environment (I.D.P.E.)—affiliated with the World Society for the Protection of Animals and supported by Animal Rights of Hawai’i—describe “a network of people who are in search for sticks that the big apes, such as those the gorillas and the chimpanzees use.”

The astonishing claim—mysteriously never reported by international primatologists and big conservation NGOs like the Jane Goodall Institute and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund—is that elderly or handicapped gorillas and chimps use wooden sticks to defend or support themselves as they walk bipedally and that sorcerers—known as “marabouts”—seek these magic sticks because of the supernatural powers they possess. The illicit trade has not been reported and the sticks fetch a $20,000 price on the international market.

The mountain gorilla is enjoying a renaissance in Rwanda and some gorillas roam freely back and forth across the shared borders with DRC and Uganda. In contrast, from the dwindling population of mountain gorillas in Congo there are more and more macabre images of rotting, severed heads with tongues lolling in slack jaws—silent screams from the once mighty silverbacks.


Bloodletting in Congo began in 1876 with Henry Morton Stanley’s mission as a mercenary agent of exploitation, employed to “open up the Congo” for Belgian’s King Leopold. The Leopold/Stanley enterprise resulted in horrible suffering and massacres, setting the stage for what is happening in Central Africa today. Then, as now, the King’s men pursued their private profiteering and white supremacist agenda behind a massive propaganda campaign. Leopold operated behind a “humanitarian” front for the great blood rubber and ivory plunder he initiated. Africa by and for Africans was the claim.

Very little has changed. From 1996 to the present, by some accounts, 10 million have died in Congo, with 1,000 people dying daily in the east alone. Untold lowland gorillas have vanished along with the iconic mountain gorilla. The international corporations with their humanitarian, development, and environmental missions operate under banners of “human rights,” “environmental protection” and, of course, Western generosity and kindness. Africa by and for Africans is the claim: nothing could be further from the truth.

Meanwhile, in Sudan (Darfur), Uganda, Somalia, and Ethiopia—the losses are monumental and the suffering monstrous and the U.S. is involved everywhere. The argument is always the same: we need to rescue Africa from Africans (and now Arabs).

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The tragic killing of mountain gorillas in DRC has overshadowed the truth of at least 4,500 documented cases of sexual violence against women and children in the first six months of 2007 in South Kivu Province alone. After women are gang raped in front of their families and communities they are often stabbed and/or shot in their genital organs. Male relatives are forced at gunpoint to rape their mothers, daughters and sisters.

What is absolutely unconscionable is that the Western mainstream press has totally ignored the growing humanitarian crisis. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for action to resolve the crisis in the DRC’s volatile eastern “gorilla forests” region, where the United Nations on July 20 counted 700,000 internal refugees.

There is little moral indignation for a single dead African person, and usually the Congolese victims are blamed for their own suffering.

The mountain gorilla knows no territorial boundary and neither do the governments of Uganda and Rwanda, which have proxy armies in Virunga Park. Charitable organizations, such as Wildlife Direct (Richard Leakey’s mercenary army) operate as tax exempt entities under the auspices of the IRS, shelter mercenary armies, and blame poor African charcoal gatherers for the mayhem perpetrated against the mountain gorilla. On their boards are former U.S. National Security Agency and other state department officials now also directors of mining companies operating in the same region.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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